NASA readies for James Webb telescope launch on Saturday

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After facing constant delays, NASA’s much-awaited James Webb Space Telescope is finally set for launch on Saturday.

The next-generation $10 billion telescope, touted as the successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, is scheduled for liftoff at 7.20 a.m. EST (5.50 p.m. IST) on December 25, NASA said in a statement.

The liftoff, on Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket, will take place from Europe’s Spaceport located near Kourou, French Guiana.

NASA said that the telescope has been rolled out to the Arianespace ELA-3 launch complex.

“With Webb and its rocket securely on the pad, the team will run electrical diagnostics to ensure all lights are green for launch. Teams will power on the observatory while at the launch pad to run one final aliveness test to ensure all systems have power and are working before liftoff,” the US space agency said.

Webb was first targeted to launch in March this year. It was later pushed back to October due to impacts from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as technical challenges.

But in September, NASA confirmed plans to launch the telescope into orbit on December 18, which was again moved back to December 22.

The telescope is the world’s largest, most powerful, and complex space science telescope ever built. It has a large infrared telescope with a 21.3 feet (6.5 meter) primary mirror.

One hundred times more powerful than Hubble, Webb will capture light, stretched over space and time into long infrared wavelengths, from the universe’s first stars and galaxies. Once the spacecraft has fully unfolded in space and begun collecting data, it will provide an unprecedented window into our universe’s deep past.

The telescope will explore every phase of cosmic history — from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, and everything in between. Webb will also reveal new and unexpected discoveries, and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.

Webb is an international programme led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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